‘Milwaukee 53206’ documentary highlights racial inequalities in the criminal justice system

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee-area residents had the opportunity to see an eye-opening documentary about racism in their own backyards. Called, "Milwaukee 53206," the film highlights the racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. It tells the story of three families from one of the most impoverished parts of the city that are affected by incarceration.

A special screening of the documentary was held at the Milwaukee Public Library East Branch on Saturday, March 3.

"Milwaukee 53206"

"Milwaukee 53206"

Jerrell Harris says, despite attending school in the inner city, he still walked away from the film in disbelief.

"It was shocking to me, to tell you the truth," said Harris.

The documentary focuses on the Milwaukee ZIP code 53206, where 62 percent of the black men living there have spent time in jail or prison. That's the highest rate among any ZIP code across the United States.

"I stayed out of it as much as I can," Harris said. "And my grandma helped me a lot stay out of it. So it's not impossible but it starts at home."

"Milwaukee 53206"

Jerrell Harris

Harris says more people need to step up as role models for children in the community.

"You can go up to a gang of guys and be like, 'you don't have to be out here smoking, you don't have to be out here robbing,'" Harris said.

It's an important point many at the viewing thought the film left out.

"It was such a heavy message. To have a discussion kind of opens it up. Maybe there are solutions and there are people that care," said Enid Gruszka, Milwaukee Public Library East Branch manager.

"Milwaukee 53206" screening

Ashley McDermott, who is a social worker, says another solution should focus on helping convicted felons once they're released back into the community after years behind bars.

"Milwaukee 53206" screening

"They might come to us for like help for their mental health or help for their substance abuse. But they're still stuck in the environment they were in before they went to prison," McDermott said.

As a social worker, McDermott says the film reminded her of the many resources in Milwaukee still lacking to help people break that vicious cycle.

"How do you break that? How do you get out of that if that's all you've ever know?" said McDermott.